Luka Doncic: Echoing Legends, Chasing Ghosts On Mavs' East Coast Trip

After the Boston game, Smart and Doncic exchanged a quick, respectful hug. Both men, and all of us, realized who sent who the loudest message. DFW Sports Notebook
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Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End 4.2.21 …

*Marcus Smart wanted to make a statement. Instead, Luka Doncic added to his sizzle reel. The Boston Celtics’ pit bull – a member of the NBA’s First Team All-Defense the last two seasons – on Wednesday night was dead-set on reminding the Dallas Mavericks’ MVP candidate who was boss.

Smart is a scrappy, physical agitator that gets inside your jersey and under your skin. The kind of defender who frustrates even Patrick Beverly.

Faced with Smart’s relentless onslaught of chest-to-chest physicality and trash-talking psychology, how did Luka respond? With 36 points. ... 8 rebounds. ... 5 rebounds.

In an impressive Mavs’ win. (Our Step Back podcast coverage of the game is here.)

At 22, Luka is nothing if not unflappable. When Smart ratcheted up the intensity and the Celtics made a run, Doncic calmly drove around him for a floater and then – just to make sure all those Celtics’ ghosts were paying attention – stroked a 35-foot 3-pointer from the signature logo of the one and only Red Auerbach.

After the game, Smart and Doncic exchanged a quick, respectful hug. Both men, and all of us, realized who sent whom the loudest message.

Oh, and of course it was just an echo, as Luka beat the Celtics on a 27-foot buzzer-beater Feb. 24 in American Airlines Center. Against the team that boasts Larry Legend, Luka’s legend is growing.

*RANGERS RISK: We all think the Texas Rangers are going to be putrid this season. Our lil’ roundtable revealed predicted win totals of anywhere between 61 and 78, but no one thinks .500 is plausible. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

I’m going to bet a virtual $100 against the Rangers every game this season and, after six months and 162 games, see where I wind up.

I think I’ll make money, but they’ll be underdogs in most games so who knows? In Thursday’s opener the Kansas City Royals were a -160 favorite, meaning I had to wager $160 in hopes of winning $100.

Thanks to a 14-10 loss in which they blew a 5-0 lead, we’re in the black already.

I’ll keep a running tab right there each Friday and come September I’ll (wink) disperse my profits to my most loyal readers.

*Hearing, seeing and feeling these Kyle Pitts-to-the-Dallas-Cowboys-at-No.-10 vibes. Don’t even think about it. The pick is Patrick Surtain.

READ MORE: Cowboys NFL Draft Tracker - Pitts, Surtain and More

Why? Because the gap between Surtain and some of the cornerback bodies Dallas is throwing out there is much larger than the gap between Pitts and tight ends Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz. Simple.

*JJ and The Two Unicorns? Newcomer Redick has a point here.

*I’ve said that the Rangers allowing a capacity crowd to their Monday’s home opener and then immediately re-introducing strict COVID safety measures in ensuing games is akin to putting on the condom after sex. I have one prominent voice in my corner. Right, Joe Biden?

*17th Heaven? When the NFL increased its number of games for the first time since 1978 this week, I heard groans from Cowboys fans.

“Wouldn’t you know it,” went the consensus, “we get the Patriots.”

Um, not sure if you’ve heard but Tom Brady now resides in Tampa Bay. Bill Belichick’s genius and Cam Newton’s mediocrity went 7-9 and missed the playoffs in 2020. Sure, the Patriots recently made a flurry of deals to bolster their offensive weapons (Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, etc.). But if the Cowboys can dodge the weather and ignore the mystique, the Patriots should be a welcomed addition to the schedule.

Updated 2021 opponents:

Home: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders.

Away: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

*With his goofy headband and grizzly mustache, Drew Timme looks like the villain that plays against the good guys in every basketball movie. But the Gonzaga center can play and, in doing so, reminds me a little of Luka. As in, his methodical footwork and meandering pace don’t wow you … until he always winds up at the rim.

Timme’s success should be no surprise to DFW hoops fans, as he starred at Richardson Pearce High School.

*Between Timme and old Southwest Conference rivals Baylor and Houston, there’s plenty to root for in Saturday’s Final Four. But, let’s face it, nobody is beating Gonzaga. Not this weekend. Not this year.

Not … ever?

The Zags are so good they’re making really good teams look like the Washington Generals. They play on-the-ball defense. They rebound. They run. They have speed, size and five guys that can create their own shot. Rarely does a player take more than two dribbles before shooting or zipping a pass to a cutting teammate. Gonzaga plays at 78rpm; the rest of the teams 33rpm. They’re undefeated. They’re unchallenged. And, somehow, they’re underappreciated. But not by me.

I put them alongside 1976 Indiana, 1982 North Carolina and 1990 UNLV as the best college teams. Ever.

*Good ol’ Bible Belt Dallas, where city leaders ban a porn convention but open their arms for a wacko QAnon rally.

*Not much hope for the Rangers. No names. No wins. This is life in the midst of rebuilding. But, evidenced by their better-than-late dumping of Rougned Odor, the admission is refreshing.

Odor was stubborn to the bitter end. The Rangers wanted him to stay in Texas last offseason and to work on his hitting approach with team coaches. Instead, he went to Venezuela and, who knows, probably worked on his high socks, unbuttoned shirt, velcro-unvelcro-velcro gloves, scraggly beard and assorted gold necklaces as big as bicycle chains.

Rangers cutting their losses now proves they’re serious about a brighter future.

*Nielsen’s move to combine over-the-air ratings with internet stream listeners continues to be an almost unfathomable boom for The Ticket. In February’s local radio ratings, it continues to be clear that while The Fan may have a larger cume (more total listeners), The Ticket clobbers all competition because of its online listeners and their time spent listening (loyalty). The Ticket (No. 1 overall) not only dwarfed The Fan (No. 8) in February amongst the coveted demographic of Men 25-54, no other station in DFW – regardless of format – even came close.

Mornings: Ticket 9.8, Fan 3.8

Middays: Ticket 8.6, Fan 4.5

Afternoons: Ticket 8.6, Fan 2.5

Total: Ticket 9.2, Fan 3.7

*I wrote here last week that Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart should be fired. Leaving voluntarily works also, especially if it nets the Longhorns former Texas Tech coach Chris Beard.

In Lubbock, Beard consistently did more with less than Smart in Austin. Fantastic hire by Texas AD Chris Del Conte. And, ah, the perks of having your own TV network and an expansive state filled with deep-pockets boosters.

In 2021, the Longhorns have paid $15 million to buy out football coach Tom Herman’s contract, agreed to pay new coach Steve Sarkisian $34 million over six years, pay $13 million per season to assistant football coaches and also throw in to Sark two cars, 20 hours of private jet use and a $250,000 relocation allowance. Now comes Beard, who is costing Texas $4 million in a contract buyout to Tech. Money is no object in Austin.

READ MORE: Full and Exclusive Coverage Of Beard At Texas

Now it’s time to see the dividends.

*Dear NFL draft geeks, do you really – honestly – believe there is a tangible, on-the-football-field-in-full-pads distinction between a player that runs a 4.38 40-yard dash and one that runs a 4.42? Because there isn’t. No matter how many wide-eyed emojis you use, there just isn’t.

*Last Summer the Dallas Stars made an inspiring run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the wake of the success, Rick Bownes got a new contract and promised “We’ve got some unfinished business” in rallying the troops for 2021.

But then, something happened. Something bad.

While the champion Tampa Bay Lightning continue their excellence with a league-leading 24 wins, the runner-up Stars are languishing near the bottom of the Central Division and threatening to not even make the playoffs.

I’m not hockey savvy enough to break down the x’s and o’s of the dramatic drop-off, but my educated guess is that an NHL-high 10 overtime losses has something to do with it.

*In the ’90s, long-time friend and local Sports Illustrated grand poohbah Mike Fisher hosted a popular radio show on 570 am KLIF. One of his bright, up-and-comer interns was a kid named Justin Frazell. Chicken-fried country and clever as a fox, “The Ol’ Redneck” soon carved his own media career and since 2009 was the marquee name at 95.9 FM The Ranch.

But, according to police records, on Jan. 1 the 47-year-old Frazell sexually assaulted a teenage girl during a New Year’s Eve party at his Mansfield home. When DNA results recently confirmed the teen’s story, Frazell was arrested March 24 and subsequently fired by the radio station.

One of those stories that happens to one of those guys that you just know can’t be true. That you desperately want not to be true. But



*Wait, so detectives have determined the cause of Tiger Woods’ one-vehicle accident on Feb. 23 but … refuse to divulge it? Citing “privacy”? What the what?!

“We have all the contents of the black box, we’ve got everything,” says sheriff Alex Villanueva. “It’s completed, signed, sealed and delivered. However, we can’t release it without the permission of the people involved in the collision.” Really? That’s a new one. A new that, of course, only leads to the suspicion surrounding the accident.

*Just when I thought I’d trademark the perfect name for a restaurant, I learned that an “Off The Chain” Kitchen already exists. Right here in Dallas. Kudos for beating me to the punch. Question: Can they franchise a chain of “Off The Chain” restaurants?

*One thing we have learned from the Deshaun Watson saga: Dude gets a lot of massages. I haven’t had more than 10 professional massages in my life.

READ MORE: Full Texans and Watson Coverage Here

The Houston Texans’ quarterback apparently has seen at least 39 different therapists. 21 are suing him; 18 defending him.

*A lady walks into a Dallas church with her baby, and gets arrested for refusing to wear a mask. 2020, still crafting punch lines in 2021.

*While you were still ignoring soccer, the U.S. Men’s Team lost a qualifying game to Honduras, knocking the Americans out of this Summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. I know every swath of green grass in DFW is crammed with weekend kids’ games, but please stop telling me how I should pay more attention to soccer. Like Disney flicks and sucking your thumb, the sport seems really important in the early stages. But once life gets a tad more serious, it just sorta vanishes.

*KP misses NY? Smart thing for Kristaps Porzingis to say at the Mavs ready for the Knicks tonight at the Garden.

It's surely not true. But given the boos he always faces there now in front of his former fans ... smart.

*While some are agog that grocery chain H-E-B is coming to Plano and Frisco in 2022, it can’t be that much better than Central Market. Or, if we’re being honest, than Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or Market Street or even Kroger. But what do I know? I was perfectly fine being raised on Minyard’s and Piggly Wiggly.

*HBO’s Real Sports delivers again, and confirms why it’s my favorite TV show. By a mile. This month’s episode features a story about an orphaned amputee sports star who has overcome being disabled by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, being abandoned by her parents and witnessing her best friend beaten to death in a violent Russian children’s home. Next time you want to complain about weather or traffic or, well, anything, remember the tale of Oksana Masters.

*Of all the elements, wind is my least favorite. Especially during the Spring in North Texas.

*Sexist alert: I think women’s basketball should lower its goals to 9 feet. Why not? Golf has shorter holes and separate tee boxes for women. Softball has shorter bases and fences. In basketball, for crying out loud, the balls are already smaller and the 3-point line is already closer. It’s time to go full admission via adjustments.

For women’s basketball to increase in viewership and popularity, the players need to be able to use their athleticism. And they simply can’t do it on 10-foot rims. There’s only so many two-handed bounce passes ESPN can crowbar into its Top 10 Plays.

*A local company is wrapping its high-tech arms around a global problem. Digital Seat Media is a tech outfit based in DFW trying to solve the quandary of safe, fast fan engagement for sport stadiums. With its hardware and software, DSM installs small, non-instrusive metal tags with QR codes on every seat. Essentially, the company is trying to do for fans at sporting events what has already happened to diners and menus at restaurants. No standing in line for food. No app. Quick. Easy. So far, DSM has installed 250,000+ tags in stadiums in five states and is working as we speak at Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

*Okay, so Jesus was nailed to the cross on grassy Mount Calvary. But, um, some bunnies that lived on the hill became nervous about all the increased activity and noise so they – hmm – okay, so they had sex and gave birth to chocolate eggs and they … No, wait. That’s crazy. So they … sidestepped their natural reproductive process and bought some candy eggs from the nearby H-E-B. Then they teased and tricked the Roman soldiers standing guard by Jesus’ tomb, telling them that there were treats hidden all around and were theirs for the taking. Even handed out straw baskets adorned with fake, stringy grass and the like, distracting them while Jesus orchestrated his resurrection.

Right? Oh. No? Fine, then you connect the Easter-bunny-eggs-candy-Jesus dots for me, smarty pants.

*Before the tournament tipped, I predicted Gonzaga 84, Houston 74 in the championship game. No reason to stray from that at this point. Also no reason to discuss the rest of my bracket.

*This Weekend? Good Friday is for golf. Saturday is for morning tennis and afternoon Final Four. Sunday is for visiting the parents on Easter. As always, don’t be a stranger.